In the last five years, I’ve gone back-and-forth between self-employment and “regular” jobs a couple times. Often these transitions were preceded by a concern that I had become “too corporate” and maybe had not taken enough time to figure out what and where I was supposed to be. I was convinced that maybe I wasn’t the all-business looking person you see in my headshot photo so I would ditch my usual reading list in favor of health and wellness titles on the fringe of mainstream and start buying clothes a little different than I’d normally wear.
After I took a few online marketing classes I thought maybe it was time for me to start promoting myself a little more and not just hide behind my corporate clients. I created my website and envisioned as the months progressed I’d be adding functionality and cool design and the occasional jaunty photos like all the gurus do. Then when I really thought about it, it kind of made me feel ridiculous … because it wasn’t me.
At the end of the day, most of us DO really know what our natural set point is when it comes to our public persona. We don’t need to search too hard for it. It’s kind of like fitness; you know where you feel best. You know the size you like to pull from your closet. Similarly, with communications and our personal brands, we know when we are in our element. We know the kind of people who make us feel good about the interaction, the groups where we feel welcomed and the venues that help us feel most comfortable. It just doesn’t take too much work and feels pretty effortless.
News flash: I am not the jaunty photo type. Despite my flirtation with other job descriptions, I know what my personal brand is and it’s pretty corporate. And that’s okay because most days, I feel pretty darn good about that.
I also learned that I already know what my set point is for networking because when it’s real and authentic, the interaction I have with the person or people gives me way more energy than it takes. When it’s really working for me, I will leave an event with a handful of business cards in my pocket or my bag practically skipping back to my car brimming with the possibility of scheduling a meeting and getting to know those people better. On the ride home I’ve often got a half-written blog post rambling around in my head.
Additionally, I can almost always find a place for the people I meet in my professional or even personal life. It’s no stretch or hard sell to get to the point where I say “I’m going to do business with this person.”
Last year, though I really intended to create a refreshed personal brand, a different kind of network, and a new direction in my career, it never really felt right while I was doing it. I could tell because I ended up accepting any and all meetings and after a while, some of the interactions didn’t feel all that energizing or productive. I drank a lot of coffee, got on a lot of new mailing lists, but can’t say that I moved the needle.
There is nothing wrong with being generous and open to meeting people outside your normal circles; in fact I try to generally live my life and career that way. But it’s a problem when you realize you are accepting meetings and coffees out of guilt and obligation rather than intent and desire. What I learned is that there’s an important balance to strike between being decisive, prescriptive, planned, and results-oriented with being open, generous, flexible and creative.
My set point is somewhere in between those two scenarios.
Ironically after all those meetings, coffees, business plans, website copy edits, and list building, I ended up almost right back where I started. Just a little clearer, a little more accepting of my corporate self, and a little more disciplined about how I use my time.